James Madison was the main designer of the Constitution. Although he helped create a form of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he was a realist and a student of political history. It was to be a government of ordinary men, but that realism dictated a certain degree of virtue. He stated, “If there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government, the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring themselves.”
Clearly, one aspect of virtue is trustworthiness and one aspect of that is telling the truth. In politics, truth has become relative. Every politician of every stripe bends the truth at times, or in modern parlance, “spins the story.” In this, Donald Trump is no different on a basic level. What distinguishes him from past presidential nominees is not only the quality of the “lie,” but his and his follower’s belief in the lie.
One study indicated that once a candidate actually becomes President, they keep about 75% of their campaign promises. When they do not, it is usually because of congressional opposition and obstruction. If the high-profile office of the President was composed of a series of blatant liars, they would be voted out after four years, or impeached before that. Or, at least that is what our Founders envisioned. A perfect example is the portrayal on the Left that George W. Bush “lied” us into war in Iraq. These seemingly untrue assertions of weapons of mass destruction wreaked political damage setting up the election of Barack Obama. In this case what appeared as a lie and was sold as a lie caused the damage. But, it wasn’t a lie- just a failure of intelligence.
Donald Trump is totally different. Any other presidential aspirant would have been dispatched by now given the litany of lies he has stated. Ted Cruz most accurately described Trump: “Whatever lie he is telling, in that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.” That is the mindset of a sociopath, or sufferer of antisocial personality disorder. It is these people who pass lie detector tests because the lie is the truth in their demented heads.
In a Washington Post poll in March of 2016, more than half of Republican voters surveyed thought Trump was dishonest. As the lies mounted, so did his electoral success. It was not as if many outlets were not publishing these lies and bringing them to the attention of voters. One need only look back on the many articles debunking Trump just here at Redstate. PolitiFact has rated 76% of Trump’s assertions, at a minimum, “mainly false.”
Strangely, voters knew about these lies and were aware they were lies. Those who cast a ballot for Trump in the primaries, in effect, condoned the lies. Why?
Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, a contributor to the rise of Trump, explained that 30 years of lies by the Republican establishment laid the groundwork for Trump’s lies. He listed promises to repeal Obamacare, balance the budget, and a humble foreign policy as examples of the lies fed to voters by the GOP over the past three decades. These were not “lies” in the traditional sense, but they clearly were failures.
Hence, the rise of the new Republican radical who came to reject the trustworthiness of all their leaders. This was not a healthy example of holding someone’s feet to the fire by electing them out of office when given the chance- the option offered by Madison and company. Instead, an unhealthy cynicism infected the process to the point that one more liar made no difference. At least this liar was “telling it like it is,” “speaking his mind,” and “just saying things people are thinking.” What was one more liar, especially if he was bombastic and a TV reality star? He was a liar, people knew he lied, and they pulled the lever because he was an “honest” liar.
Politico followed Trump on the primary campaign trail for one week and cataloged over 60 mischaracterizations, exaggerations and outright lies. That translated into a transgression every five minutes. For example, he exaggerated the negative ads directed against him in Florida, inflating the number by a factor of over 300%. Instead of $50 million in attack ads, the actual number was $15 million (and not all of them attack ads against Trump). Trump apparently is the only American to have witnessed hordes of Muslims celebrating in the streets on 9/11.
Harry Franfurt is a philosophy professor at Princeton University who authored a paper titled, “On Bullshit.” In it, he distinguished between the liar and the bullshitter. Unlike the liar, the bullshitter does not care what the truth is; he talks as if it suits his purposes. The Trump phenomena is novel in this respect, and dangerously scary. People have come to the point that words spoken in the heat of political discourse just do not matter anymore. It is now style over substance.
As such, Trump has taken advantage of the cynicism and pessimism rife within the electorate. Of course, politicians are partially responsible for this state of the affairs. When you promise the moon and deliver moldy cheese, a backlash is certain.
When our Founders wrote the Constitution, they put breaks on the popular will of the masses. Although the House was to be the “people’s house” with representatives elected every two years to keep them close to “the people,” the Senate and their longer 6-year term was to be a check on the worst impulses of “the people.” The President was to be a virtuous and trustworthy person of high stature deserving of his lofty position. Even he was not to be elected directly by “the people.” In effect, our Founders anticipated and feared a misinformed and, dare I say, stupid electorate making such important decisions as to who the leader of the country was to be.
In The Republic by Plato, in one dialogue, Plato warned about the effects of too much democracy. He argued that the longer a democracy lasted, the more democratic it would become. Freedoms would multiply and equality would spread and deference to authority would cease. As established values became popular values, views would become so diverse as to be uncomprehending. When a certain state of “equality” is reached, a semblance of stability becomes nil. There is no looking towards authority, political experience or even expertise in governing the masses.
What scared Plato, and our Founders who were very much aware of The Republic, is that it was as these times that a despotic tyrant was most apt to ascend the political hierarchy. Plato warned that such tyrants would evolve from the wealthy elite themselves and that the tyrant would attack his peers. He would stand alone promising to cut through the political gridlock that the state of affairs created. He would offer the masses relief from the excesses of “too much democracy” and “too much equality.” He promises to take on the established “elites” and will be a voice for the masses- the demos, the mob. In the end, as one writer once analyzed it, democracy would repeal itself.
Plato’s fears and his timeline accurately mirror the ascendancy of Donald Trump. The electorate has become so jaded and so cynical that they now almost cry out for a despotic tyrant be it Donald Trump or the socialist Bernie Sanders. Part of the blame could be placed on our educational system which has abandoned teaching civics in favor of a curriculum dedicated to multiculturalism. A vast swath of the US electorate is unaware of the age requirements to be President. Greater than 50% of Americans under the age of 29 reject capitalism.
The worst of Plato’s and our Founder’s fears are being realized in the persona of Donald Trump. As such, he is the natural outgrowth of Plato’s fear of too much democracy and too much equality. We live in truly dangerous times and those complicit in the rise of Trump do not even realize how much more dangerous they have made it. The idiocracy has arrived.